In the frantic yearend season known as shiwasu (lit. “teachers running”), when even dignified people grow harried, a friend invited me to play hooky from the madness and take a ramble together around her Tokyo neighborhood. Since the gift of time together is a great one, I hopped the next train to Senju in Adachi Ward.

Back when Tokyo was still Edo (1603-1867), Senju was outside the city limits, northeast and across the Sumida River. In fact, once across the water, poet Matsuo Basho stopped in Senju in 1689 to write the first haiku in his travelogue, “Narrow Road to the Deep North,” marking his departure from Edo. His sentiment was melancholic — “the spring is passing — / birds all mourn and fishes’ / eyes are wet with tears” (trans. Tim Chilcott) — and he feared that he might never return home.

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